Maurizio Sarri refused to comment Lazio transfers this summer, saying he prefers to focus on their upcoming match against Lecce. The Biancocelesti travel to Apulia tomorrow to face a plucky Lecce side who will aiming to secure another season in Serie A after a close call in 2022-23. Speaking ahead of the match, Sarri focused on his new look squad which includes a number of young signings, and talked about his expectations for a busy season that includes playing in the Champions League:
You begin your third season at Lazio, after the second place, what does he ask for?
“The same things, the league is difficult, there are teams better equipped than us. Last year we benefited from the efforts of others in Europe, I don’t think it will be repeated, so it will be even more difficult. There are on paper the same difficulties.”
What kind of Serie A will it be?
“It seems to me to be growing slightly, I don’t take what happened in Europe last season for granted, the draws helped a bit. It seems to me to be growing, though.”
Does the Champions League need another miracle this year?
“I think the values are in line with last year, we need to do something to the limits of our potential to fight for the Champions League.”
The new signings?
“They are almost all behind in condition, Rovella is coming from a slight injury, Kamada from a long period of inactivity, only Isaksen at the leg level seems to me to be in condition. But in the role now he is behind.”
Does the market so far satisfy you? Do you think there is a need to do something?
“If 24 hours before the game I start talking about the market…. It is already a scandal that the market is open with the season started, just as it is a scandal that it opens in January with all the games on the schedule. In Italy we complain that the merchants now hold world football, but what laws have we made to prevent this? The market lasts three times as long as it did 30 years ago: let’s have a 10-day market and you’ll see that the agents will count for less. I am pissed that tomorrow some footballer may be with his head elsewhere….the crap I heard written in the summer, I never heard. The ones about me at least. 75% of the news about me were hoaxes. I prefer to talk about Lecce and not about the market. Let the truth be known, which then here we are talking about bullshit, but if in serious things the kind of information is the same, then I am concerned.”
Can Kamada fill Milinkovic’s place? With the new players, is Lazio stronger?
“He can step on the same areas, but with different characteristics. He is a dribbler, but he does not have Milinkovic’s physique. Kamada, however, is a player. The team will play slightly differently. We have improved at the squad level, in the starting eleven it remains to be seen. The pitch will tell us.”
Next year, in terms of fatigue, better to play on Tuesday and Wednesday than on Thursday?
“All to be seen, what matters is mental and nervous energy. On Thursdays it’s tough to come back in after the game, on a mental level after a game it’s not so obvious to recharge. On the energy level definitely it will be easier, then we see from the nerves point of view. Then we also look at the schedule they gave us: I talked to a statistician friend of mine, we play 4 away games at the beginning and out of these three are against Juve, Napoli and Milan.. It’s practically impossible, I think it’s not random.”
What would be needed in midfield?
“Tomorrow we play in Lecce, where we lost last year. Call Lotito and Fabiani to talk about the market, otherwise I’ll get up and leave. I want to give my players more messages.”
Your third year in a team was always the best. It didn’t happen so many times.
“It’s not even true, it happened in Empoli and Napoli that I stayed 3 years, often I stayed for more years. Empoli, for what were the results the club had to achieve, was a strong team. Napoli the same thing. Now we are being asked to do something at the limits of possibility. Definitely I have seen players grow, I hope it happens again. We have to think about this, we have to have a good mentality right away. Going from preseason to 3-point mode is not easy, no one has the button. Tomorrow is a difficult pitch. I think it’s the only stadium in Serie A where I’ve never won. It takes humility. Lecce are good physically, in front they are quick, they have players who rely on brilliance. We need to enter the championship mode in the right way.”
Has Lazio’s displacement increased?
“I repeat, my feeling is that we are better at the level of the squad, I don’t know in the eleven.”
In what sense is the schedule not causal?
“It is incredible that a team that finished second in the standings in the first four away matches three teams that finished in the top five last year. On a statistical level there is an infinitely low possibility.”
It has been 50 years since Maestrelli’s Scudetto. Extra motivation?
“Difficult to explain it to current generations, we have the misfortune of being old and having seen it, the luck of being alive. Difficult to tell certain characters, who were easily understood in those years. Those who lived through Lazio know what that team and that coach represented. A Japanese or a Dane maybe will understand in some time. If Juve only found motivation every 50 years it would be different…. That Scudetto, of course, is special, like those of Napoli for example, they are Scudettos that have a higher appeal. They are stories that I lived through in my youth, when you live them so intensely they stick with you for a lifetime. When you have the imprint of an extraordinary story it stays with you.”
Lazzari and preparation?
“I pick the matches where he is indispensable, there are others where other players will be needed. We are betting a lot on Manuel, but it is also important to have Hysaj healthy, as well as Pellegrini and Marusic, who had a difficult summer after surgery. At the squad level we are stronger, in the eleven we see. Preparation is preparation, sometimes it has little meaning, some suffer from the heat or workloads. Some players seem to have a negative approach, then instead the temperature drops 7-8 degrees and they are the strongest of all. The feedback starts tomorrow, we will find difficult weather, this morning was one of the most difficult workouts of my life. And I was stationary. With the sun at peak it is complicated. Here in Italy we make calendars like in England, without taking into account that we are almost in Africa. In Birmingham it was 15 degrees, you have to take that aspect into consideration. Germany stops in January because it’s -15, now here it’s 38 degrees.”
A comment on the societal changes?
“The characteristics of the club are the same: short chain of command, ownership in the hands of a family and not an international fund. Then a character or two may change, but the characteristics remain. With all the merits and some flaws. I consider myself the organizer of the teams, but I need time. I also have my merits and flaws.”
Opinions on Luis Alberto’s form?
“I saw him doing well, he had responsibilities last year as well. He did a good preparation, he comes from a more suffered period, some aches and pains are holding him back. He will also be important in the next season, as he was last year from November on. Now he has had some physical problems that have held him back a bit, stuff that can be solved in the next few days.”
Will the new guys find space tomorrow?
“The possibility is definitely there, to say they are ready, no. I have certain characteristics, I have a hard time launching a player very quickly. If one does not make certain movements for you, then he puts everyone in trouble. Kamada is not ready physically, he is not fully in the mechanisms, but he is a made player. The performance can pull it out of you in any way. The others now have some difficulties, it is not easy to change language, training and ways of eating. I saw Platini suffer when he was young and he came from 400 km away. Slowly we will get everyone right, now they are a little behind.”
Milinkovic in Lecce would have been disqualified. Kamada from the start?
“For one day, not for 38 … Then Kamada can also be dropped from the first. He doesn’t have the 90 minutes, we haven’t decided yet. The feeling is that he has the experience to shorten the time compared to the other newcomers. For 20 minutes the others are also ready, Isaksen is very well.”